A rootless writer-lecturer cuts a deal with the Devil in this latest comic romp from the prolific poet, essayist, NPR commentator, and novelist (Casanova in Bohemia, 2002, etc.).
The eponymous Wakefield (namesake of the Hawthorne character who abandons his life for 20 years before impulsively reentering it) persuades Satan to give him extra time to discover his “authentic life” (i.e., vocation, purpose, allegiance). For Wakefield is an intellectual drifter: an aficionado of architecture’s utilitarian element (a self-proclaimed “cartographer of lost space”), abused for his political indifference by his fiery Romanian ex-wife Marianna, passively debating morality vs. Epicureanism with his Russian émigré cabdriver buddy Zamyatin. The plot—which is really only a vehicle for Codrescu’s riffs on trendy topics du jour (e.g., conspicuous consumption, American insularity, sexual gameswomanship, New Age clichés)—is rather reminiscent of its author’s nonfiction travelogue Road Scholar (1993). As Satan (amusingly imagined as an overburdened, caustic CEO) keeps metamorphosing and dropping by to monitor his prey, Wakefield journeys to the northern midwestern town of Typical, to speak on “Money and Poetry” to employees of an Orwellian software conglomerate (“The Company”); ruffles left-wing feathers at the World Art Museum in the “Wintry City” (manifestly Chicago); espouses political incorrectness throughout southwestern and southern California venues; then returns home, as uncommitted to ideologies and –isms as ever, to restructure his contract with The Infernal One. Wakefield isn’t much of a novel, but it’s populated with strong-willed yet sexually compliant women, graced by droll deadpan observations on miscellaneous American madnesses, and—in its protagonist’s growing conviction that “there is something disappearing from the world, something composed of many instances of tradition and skill”—a serious note of knowing lamentation for imperiled cultures everywhere.
Not Codrescu’s best, but nevertheless one of his wisest, most engaging books.